We are seeing major unrest and demonstrations in the secular Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, most recently in Tunisia and Egypt, but also in Jordan, Yemen and Algeria and a number of others.

We are being told that the main reason is skyrocketing costs that normal people can’t cope with, and that people are sick of living under oppressive dictatorships, wanting democracy instead.

I get nervous that every time there is a popular uprising in the world, we in the west always optimistically believe that it is because people everywhere thirst for our version of democracy. We should surely have learned a lesson by now that as Bob Dylan said

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.”

Whilst I am not generally a conspiracist, I can’t get rid of this uneasy feeling that there is some background orchestration behind these “spontaneous” riots all suddenly happening at the same time. Whilst I understand that modern communications, the internet and social networks make for cosmic consciousness (what I call the Pesto effect), I find it hard to accept that this could all happen so quickly and simultaneously and yet only in secular Muslim countries.

To understand what may be going on, one needs to ask as to what will happen after the dictators are gone. Who will step into the void that is left behind? And why is it happening in just the secular Muslim countries?

The largest opposition party in these countries is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and in Egypt where it started, despite being officially banned, the MB have led public opposition to the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak. The MB say that they support Democratic principles, and as they postulate that Islam supports democracy, their goal is to create a state ruled by Islamic Law, Sharia, their slogan being “Islam is the solution”.

Attribution: Presidenza della Repubblica; Source: http://www.quirinale.it/elementi/
Continua.aspx?tipo=Foto&key=9701; via Wikipedia

Sayyid Qutb, a leader of the MB, advocated the use of Jihad against “ignorant societies”, both Western and Islamic ones, as they were in need of “radical transformation”. His writings are known to have inspired leaders of most radical Muslim groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. He was “martyred” in 1966.

The Mubarak regime’s repression of the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, appears to have been one of the main triggers for the massive anti-government demonstrations that we have seen this year, and many believe that the MB were the leaders in fomenting this unrest.

The Muslim Brotherhood is active in Jordan as the Islamic Action Front, which has the most seats of any party in the Jordanian parliament, in Tunisia as the Renaissance Party (2nd largest Islamist group), in Palestine and Syria as Hamas, as well as being active in Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq. We have to accept that whatever happens in these countries and whatever is the form and makeup of the replacement governments, the MB will play a major role in their structure, and in many will actually have the controlling position.

Western nations have always tended to support their favourite dictators way past their use-by dates … look at the French with Bao Dai and US with Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam, as well as Mubarak in Egypt.

Whether we agree or not with what is currently happening in North Africa and the Middle East, we should leave these people to make their own choices of who should govern them even if we see their choices as being just between “the bad and the ugly” with no “good” on offer.

Even if the Muslim Brotherhood makes us nervous, if we believe in the concept of democracy and free choice, we must let each country define democracy in the way that suits them, rather than believe that the only good democracy is the one that elects those leaders that we find acceptable.

As George Bernard Shaw said “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”



  1. nicola says:

    Yes it is a very interesting time in the middle east , but let us not forget that similar movements happened to dictators in europe not so long ago ( spain, portugal , greece ) . Regimes should not be supported by the west when they are corrupt , let the west help the transition and gain respect this way .
    The best guarentee of stability in the middle east is democracy .

  2. leshayman says:

    Nicola, I agree … if there is any role that the west can play it is only to help the process of change, but without taking sides.

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